“Bring back the child you murdered. If the state and empire wishes to act like God that can take life, it should also function as a god and resurrect life. If it cannot, then it is not a god, and its laws are not legitimate when they’re predatory.” – Dr. Joy James
On 27th March 2020, the police killed Yassin Moyo while he was sitting in the comfort of his mother’s lap in their home balcony.[mfn]
Two years later, Yassin’s murderer and the conspirators of his death are still free, living their lives like nothing happened.[mfn] Two years later his family has been left childless, his home a constant reminder that we aren’t safe even in our own intimate spaces.
Yassin’s name remains a lingering reminder of the injustice that festers within Kenya’s judicial systems, and is a public declaration of the judiciary’s stand on state-sanctioned violence. Judicial precedents provide temporary closure for families and victims of state sanctioned violence, however, it does not bring back those that the state has taken away or even uphold accountability. From the endless faceless youth killed by cops in Mathare to George Floyd, police violence is cyclic. Even in the internet age where people are able to document these crimes, the state does not acknowledge the violence and trauma they validate and dismiss with every police killing.
Yassin’s murder wasn’t unprecedented, it’s very much in line with Kenya’s well documented history of criminalizing the youth in urban informal settlements. Scholar Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian explores the concept of racialized, gendered and colonial policies which attack children’s bodies through the use of force as “un-childing”. [mfn] Not only does unchilding dehumanize, but it also renders these tragedies as almost invisible. The violence and xenophobia of the police force becomes normalized through the doubling down of a broken and exploitative class system. From the constant killings in Mathare and Kayole, to the kidnappings of youth in majorly Muslim areas, un-childing has become a fixture within the police force and throughout the judicial system.[mfn]
Remembering Yassin’s murder is also remembering justice as failure. In 2020, Yassin Moyo’s killer, officer Duncan Ndiema, was charged with murder but was released on a 1 million cash bail, leaving him in active proximity to the family and community he has harmed.
As someone dedicated to prison and police abolition, I understand that the whole system is guilty. However, I find myself desiring the conviction of officers like Duncan Ndiema. Many of us do, including Yassin’s family and the wider Mathare community. We want justice the only way we know how, but there are inherent contradictions within our justice system. While a conviction feels like justice, mechanisms such as bail only reinforce who jails are actually built for, never actually implicating the people that can afford to buy their way out of it.
This can also enforce harmful stereotypes on who “deserves” to go to jail. What is ultimately concerning about Yassin’s case is the media narrative that because he was a child in his home this tragedy is unprecedented. It wasn’t unprecedented, and only raises questions on how our society frames “sympathetic” victims versus “unsympathetic” victims. All victims of police brutality and killings are victims regardless.
The entire premise of our justice system is not one that is centered on victims at all. According to reports from the Mathare Social Justice Centre, police officers terrorizing residents of urban informal settlements is constant and unrelenting.[mfn] The National Police Service is a colonial framework previously used by Western nations to control colonies, and not much has changed, the modern version upholds the protection of state capital, and a rigid class system as its primary function.[mfn]
The most policed areas from Mombasa’s Kisauni to Nairobi’s Mathare are those consisting of primarily lower-class populations.[mfn] Policing in these areas has neither solved crime rates nor institutionalized public access to mechanisms of care, it only offers the alienation of marginalized communities. When people are struggling just to stay alive, forgoing food to scrape together money for bail or more often, to pay for a funeral, the capacity for mass organisation is stunted by the same system killing off these communities.
A conviction doesn’t fix it, in place of that single policeman ten more will be in their place, patrolling the same areas and abusing the same people. I know we want to believe that the system works, that jail-time is justice, but this is an endemic issue. If prison is a system to enforce accountability, why are convictions implicating police officers so rare?
For Yassin Moyo and all other victims of police violence, we must dissent against pacifying modes of justice by realizing that there is nothing about the judicial system that has a revolutionary desire.
- “Mama, It Has Hit Me – Yassin Moyo’s Last Cry -.” 2020. Missingvoices.or.ke. April 1, 2020. https://missingvoices.or.ke/mvoicesarticle/mama-it-has-hit-me-yassin-moyos-last-cry/.
- Yasin Moyo Case Stalls Again after Defence Lawyer Missed Court -.” 2022. Missingvoices.or.ke. January24, 2022. https://missingvoices.or.ke/mvoicesarticle/the-trial-of-a-police-officer-charged-with-the-murder-of-yasin-moyo-has-failed-to-start/.
- Nāderah Shalhoub-Kevorkian. 2019. Incarcerated Childhood and the Politics of Unchilding. Cambridge (Uk): Cambridge University Press.
- https://www.the-star.co.ke/authors/brianotieno. 2021. “Where Is Our Son? Family Demands Answers from State.” The Star. October 19, 2021. https://www.the-star.co.ke/counties/coast/2021-10-19-where-is-our-son-family-demands-answers-from-state/.
- Mathare Social Justice Centre. 2017. “Who Is Next? A Participatory Action Research Report against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare.” Mathare Social Justice Centre. Kenya: Mathare Social Justice Centre. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2NZry_SioNhWEFyQWNuVVBJV2M/view?usp=sharing.
- Omar, Suhayl. 2020. “When We Lose Our Fear, They Lose Their Power.” Edited by Nommo Editorial Collective. Nommo Mag. Nommo Magazine. July 29, 2020. https://nommomag.com/BlackStruggle.
- Kimari, Wangui. 2019. “The Story of a Pump: Life, Death and Afterlives within an Urban Planning of ‘Divide and Rule’ in Nairobi, Kenya.” Urban Geography, December, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2019.1706938.